Monday, December 30, 2013

On the horizon: editing for CHO: Contemporary Haibun Online

If you're interested in haiku writing you're no doubt already aware of the web journal Contemporary Haibun Online. Jim Kacian, and his editorial team, published my first haibun here back in 2007 as well as in their sister print publication the annual anthology Contemporary Haibun (Red Moon Press), about to celebrate its 15th issue.

So I'm fizzing with new year delight to announce that I'll be one of three new editors at CHO after April 2014 alongside Bob Lucky (Editor in Chief) and Marjorie Buettner, both of whom are internationally successful haiku and haibun writers themselves. 

All my writing energy from the last two years was spent in the research and writing of Real Port Talbot, an upbeat and offbeat story of my hometown in South Wales, UK. Amongst the 70,000 words of history and commentary you will find some poems, some memoir and a few haiku, although they are in the minority. But editing other people's work always inspires my own and I am sure that my involvement in CHO will encourage me to get back to writing haibun, a form that brings together poetic epiphany and narrative, a form that enabled me to write about my life in a way that felt honest and precise and allowed me to produce my haibun collection, forgiving the rain in 2012.

So my new post with CHO feels particularly rewarding. I'm going back to where I started but, hopefully, with a deeper understanding and an appreciation of the form. And with a desire to encourage new and established haibun writers too.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

It’s haiku, Jim, but not as we know it

First published in 'The Brief', Newsletter of the British Haiku Society, November 2013

It was delightfully appropriate that an email request in August this year to comment on inter-planetary haiku was preceded by the word, ‘Greetings!’ The only bit missing was, ‘Earthlings’.

November 18th 2013 is the scheduled launch date of NASA’s MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission), a spacecraft that will explore the red planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind. It will also deliver thousands of space and mars-inspired haiku to whatever audience might be lurking there. Or at least that was NASA’s intention when they announced their online haiku contest in March this year. Public voting took place during May and June.

There were over 12,000 entries and over 39,000 votes. An enthusiasm for poetry writing that was only eclipsed by the staggering absence of any poetry. Or at least that was my reaction to the few dozen I read through when the BBC World Service asked if I could comment on the winning entries and give a general overview of the submissions.

I don’t doubt the sincerity of people or their ability to communicate an idea. But sincerity and ideas don’t make a haiku. This was the winning entry:

It’s funny, they named Mars 
after the God of War 
Have a look at Earth 

Benedict Smith 
United Kingdom

Yes, it is funny. Next?

Maven’s engineers
write in binary while we
count some syllables.

Craig Houghton
Connecticut, USA

Of course, the old syllable count, chopped up sentence approach.

Before the programme went live the interviewer at the BBC confided, ‘We don’t want you to be nice about these.’ That was a relief. But, let’s be honest, this wasn’t a haiku competition. It was a publicity event to raise awareness of the MAVEN project. And NASA defined a haiku as, ‘a poem made of three lines; the first and last lines must have exactly five syllables each and the middle line must have exactly seven syllables.’

So what could I say? That the counting of syllables to make haiku has its roots in literary misinterpretation. That poetry is about suggestion and understatement. That the best haiku are small epiphanies. Snapshots of the quotidian taken from unexpected angles, perhaps with a startling depth of focus. The tiniest of elegies. Breaths of emotion, some light, some dark. (David Cobb, Foreword, The Humours of Haiku (Iron Press 2012)

I hope there are some crafted haiku among all those barren syllables hurtling towards the red planet. Some simple words that will help illuminate life on our tiny planet, if only for the sake of the mental health of any Martians who might end up trawling through them.

If you have the time and inclination (and don’t mind losing the will to live) you can check out all the submitted haiku at this link.

Friday, August 02, 2013

tiny words: big appreciation

It's always encouraging to have a haiku chosen for tiny words and satisfying to have comments of appreciation posted there too. But when someone takes the time to analyse and dissect your haiku with insight and eloquence, and share that response, then that makes your appearance in the online journal even more worthwhile.

Many thanks to Strider, Haiku Apprentice at Learning Haiku by Reading and Doing for taking the time to respond to my haiku on 31st July 2013.

tinted mirror
what I think
I believe

-Lynne Rees

'Wow, another haiku poem that raises and sets me pondering philosophical issues. Or should I say, "confronting" those issues. Because the "mirror" mentioned in the work confronts us all every day, with apparent certainty. Who am I? What face do I present to the world? And for that matter, what is "the world"? This is literally an "existential" haiku!

This poem seems to deliberately set up an echo to Descartes' famous "Cogito ergo sum" - "I think therefore I am". For me, Lynne Rees appears to be challenging me to recognize that our other mirrors may also be "tinted". How do we know? What do we think? What do we believe about the world?

What we "believe" about ourself, our appearance, we usually judge by means of a mirror - even though intellectually we "know" of course that everything is in reverse. So when shown a picture of ourself in a photograph we experience with something like shock the revelation of what we "really" look like.

So for me, this poem is almost like a zen zazen, a challenge - and also a means - to balance our left and right brains. Our left hemisphere breaks reality into pieces - like shards of glass; it focuses on and manipulates "facts" and "data". The right hemisphere by contrast works to integrate these into wholes; into fully comprehensible pictures of reality. So which side of the mirror is real?

This poem leaves me unsettled. There is no final answer. Like those parallel mirrors in which I see myself reflected endlessly into the distance, this poem, and these philosophical questions, recur endlessly. The writing and the reading, the poet and the reader, are the mirror images. Which side knows? Which side believes?

Ah, wonderful!

Strider'